Tag: raymond buckland

Review: A Witch Like Me, edited by Sirona Knight

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A Witch Like Me: The Spiritual Journeys of Today’s Pagan Practitioners, by Sirona Knight
New Page Books, 2002

Right off the top let me say that I hope this book inspires another one or two in the same line, although perhaps not limited to book authors. I love the idea of learning more about some of the background of some of the “big names” in Paganism. Of course, some of the people I would most like to read about are deceased, but perhaps there are close associates who could provide the data for “posthumous interviews.” In another vein, perhaps a book of fictional biographies could be assembled for the likes of Harry Potter, Sabrina, Samantha (“Bewitched”) Stevens, the “Charmed” sisters, etc.

It is difficult to critique a book like this, other than on technical grounds, since it is composed of individual life stories and opinions. I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no matter if they match up with mine or not. So, I find myself in the position of not being able to disagree with any of the statements contained within this book.

Perhaps the only legitimate criticism I can level at this book, if it is that, is that of the fourteen authors presented here (Dorothy Morrison, Phyllis Currot, Raymond Buckland, Z. Budapest, Marion Weinstein, Patricia Telesco, Raven Grimassi, Lady Sabrina, Skye Alexander, A.J. Drew, Silver Ravenwolf, Timothy Roderick, and Sirona Knight), there are only a few who are “Old Timers” (i.e., their first published work came out 20 or more years ago). Even that, however, merely reflects the author’s choice to deal with those individuals who have stood up for their beliefs, and who are still on the cutting edge of the evolving religion of Wicca.

This is a fun book. No, you won’t learn any deep, dark secrets. There are no skeletons in the closet being revealed. And of course, each author presents themselves in the best possible light,. That is human nature and no one can be faulted for that.

It is a book worth reading, because it shows that Wiccans are very human, and that some of us are willing to stand up and take our lumps for our beliefs. Wiccan authors are becoming more visible, and their books more viable. If you want to know more about the works of these authors, they are listed in the appendix. That appendix could form the basis for a decent “wish list” to improve your library.

Cards of Alchemy, by Raymond Buckland

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Cards of Alchemy, by Raymond Buckland
Kit: Llewellyn Publications, 0738700533, 199 page book + 50 cards, 2003

Do not let the title fool you, or cause you to pass this deck by. You don’t need a working knowledge of alchemy for it to make sense (although that certainly wouldn’t hurt). Anyone, even someone with no knowledge of the subject of alchemy can find guidance within the contents of this deck and book combination. I would NOT recommend that you pick up the deck without the book, although you may simply want to get the book.

This is not a deck of cards for divining the future in the way of a standard Tarot. It is designed, by one of the more prominent figures (in my opinion) in the modern American Pagan/magickal community, to be a system of transformation for an individual.

The cards are unique in several ways. First, they are designed to be read horizontally, rather than vertically. Next, the symbolism on them is totally unlike any other deck. While still divided into “suits”, there are five suits of nine cards each, and five “Wild Cards”. Rather than elemental associations (which are reserved for the “Wild Cards”), the suits are assigned to various areas of human life (love, health, wealth, protection, and power). Each of the suits is divided into three sets of three, each set of which relates to a “degree” or level of experience. These levels are “Puffer” (Novice), “Initiate” (Experienced), and “Adept” (Master/Teacher)/. These grades are NOT related to magickal or Craft training, but are references to life experiences.

It is the intent of the creator of this deck to generate thought rather than to provide answers. In this it is more akin to the I-Ching than the Tarot. Because of the significant difference between the symbolism in this deck and that in a Tarot deck, of any design, I would recommend that you keep the book handy while working with this deck.

There are a number of layouts illustrated and explained: a four card spread called the “Star Cross”; a five card spread called “The Path”; and a seven card layout called the “Buckland Seven Star” spread. Each of these is thoroughly explained, as well as what the appearance of one (or more) “Wild Cards” in a reading means. The “Wild Cards” are similar to the Major Arcana cards in their influence.

There are a couple of paragraphs devoted to the use of this deck in standard Tarot layouts and as a divination tool for yourself or others; but this in the form, it appears to me, of an afterthought. The primary purpose of this deck is for inner development and knowledge and I would recommend that, at least in the beginning, that is what you restrict it to.

The major illustrations on each card are drawn from a wide variety of alchemical texts spanning nearly a millennium (from the tenth through the nineteenth Centuries), even though the additions by the author (the suits, grades, keyword, astrological balance, and stone of destiny) are modern. Each card is nicely illustrated, clearly drawn, and well laid out. The colors are pleasant and evocative.

The author has redrawn images from ancient texts. If he has modified them (an he does so), he tells you how they differ from the original illustrations. The major change he has introduced in many of them is in the use of colors and, occasionally, the deletion of some of the wording which appeared in the originals.

The designs on the “Wild Cards” is slightly different, as is to be expected. Each of them contains two separate illustrations, an elemental association, a keyword, and a ruling planet.

Also included are cards illustrating, and explaining. Each of the layouts (illustrations are on one side of the card, with the explanation on the reverse). There is also a card illustrating the “degrees” on one side (with a brief description of what each means) and the suits on the reverse side (identifying each and showing the area of life it is associated with.

If you are willing to experiment with the information contained in this set, and are willing to be honest with yourself, this set should help you towards a deeper understanding of yourself and your relationship to the external world.

Review: Signs, Symbols and Omens, by Raymond Buckland

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Signs, Symbols & Omens: An Illustrated Guide to Magical & Spiritual Symbolism, by Raymond Buckland
Llewellyn Worldwide, 073870234X, 234 pp. (+ bibliography), 2003

This is a reference book which will appeal to a large number of people. First, it is written by a recognized authority in the field (Ray Buckland was one of the first visible Witches in the U.S.). Next, there isn’t a whole lot of text – most of the book is composed of hand-drawn symbols (just like the ones most of us draw). Finally, it is nicely organized.

If you are interested in using time-honoured symbols, this is a very convenient book to have on your shelf.

Although I was familiar with many of these symbols, and in fact have several other reference of a similar nature in my personal library, this book is notable for being concise and well-organized. I must admit that there were, in my opinion, a few things that would have made it a better work. It would have benefited, I feel, from a bit more cross-referencing. Some symbols appear in more than one section and, although a short statement is made that it appears in other contexts, the symbol is not illustrated in the other sections. If you happen to be looking for, in one case, the swastika in its Buddhist context, you won’t find it, although you will find it in other areas.

Obviously, in a small book such as this, notes and explanations must be kept to a minimum. Perhaps the author would consider a large volume in the future with more details and an even wider range of symbols included.

The Bibliography is long on current (or recently published) books, and short on out-of-print, hard-to-find volumes. While I can easily think of a few more books I would have included, I most certainly can’t quibble with the choices selected.

Is this a definitive work on Signs, Symbols and Omens? By no stretch of the imagination. Is it a good, introductory overview of these topics? Yes. Would I add to my library? At $14.95 (U.S.), without hesitation. There are more extensive books on the market, but few as well written and organized as this book.

Review: Witchcraft from the Inside, by Raymond Buckland

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Witchcraft from the Inside: Origins of the Fastest Growing Religious Movement in America, by Raymond Buckland
Llewellyn Worldwide, 1567181015, 197 pp. (+ bibliography and Iidex), 1974, 1975, 1995

This is a reissue of one of the classics from the days when I began my studies. Because it was originally issued nearly thirty years ago, some of it is rather dated, but there have been appropriate updates in sections which required the most work.

The debates over the origins and meanings of the words “Druid” and “Wica” have occupied a lot of time and energy in the community over the past decades and will undoubtedly continue to do so for more to come. In point of fact, we may never “know for sure” about these topics, and should, in my opinion, be willing to agree to disagree.

Dr. Buckland, following in the steps of Gerald Gardner, spells the name of the religion with only one “c” (Wica) not the more common two “c’s” (Wicca). And, also like Gardner, he makes no distinction between “Wica” and “Witchcraft.” Although many new to the religion will insist that “Wicca” was created by Gerald Gardner and is a religion, and that “Witchcraft” is synonymous with magick (and may be practiced by members of any religion, even Christians), Gardner, Buckland, et. al. make no such distinction.

There have been additions and revisions to the text (and if I could find my misplaced copy of the first paperback printing, I could document many of them). One obvious addition is a drawing of a Seax-Wica altar (on page 139). The Seax (Saxon) tradition did not exist publicly when the book was first published. Later obvious additions, which will be discussed further, are Chapters 11 and 12 (“Whither Wicca?” and “The Teen Interest Plus Feminist Wicca”).

Reading this book took me back to my earliest studies of the religion I have followed now for well over half of my life. I can still remember my feelings of awe as I read books by people who would admit, publicly, to being Witches. Although the political and religious climate have both undergone huge changes in the ensuing three decades plus, it still takes a great deal of courage to come out of the “broom closet.” Although it isn’t supposed to be dangerous to do so, it can still be damaging to one’s reputation, employment, and chances of maintaining custody of one’s children.

I occasionally hear newcomers talk about how much better it was twenty or thirty years ago; about how there wasn’t the oppression and the discord between traditions, as if somehow we have taken steps back from a “Golden Age.” As one who lived through the perceived “Golden Age,” I am here to tell you that if it weren’t for the pioneering work of authors like Dr. Buckland, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today. And as for the discord between groups”??? When this book first came out “everybody knows” that the only true Witches were Gardnerians. Everybody else was a bunch of wannabees, and were treated accordingly.

Dr. Buckland acknowledges the discontinuity between the practices of our ancestors and the worship of our groups today (at one point he even admits that drug usage may have had a place in medieval practices). In the ‘70s it was an article of faith that there existed an unbroken line of connection between our modern covens and the ancient beliefs, which is ridiculous.

Dr. Buckland discounts the concept of hereditary Witches, and I dare say many of today’s practitioners would agree with him on that point. In a hold over from previous works he also appears to discount the idea of self-initiation, which I suspect would not find as many in agreement. He does acknowledge the existence of such an initiation, but seems to indicate that it is primarily a “stop-gap” measure intended only to serve until one can be “properly” initiated. He also appears to espouse a different understanding of the term “Elder,” in that he reserves it to Third Degree Witches as opposed to its use (in many groups) to Second and Third Degree members.

Other areas where Dr. Buckland varies from the current crop of writers and teachers of the occult is on the topics of reincarnation and three-fold return. He sees three-fold in terms of the current life only, and not being carried over into future incarnations. Many current “authorities” see it more in terms of karma (the Eastern philosophy of a “balance sheet” carried from one life to another). This provides, in my opinion, a much needed alternative to what has become an increasingly one-sided view. I do have a disappoint-ment that he fails to explain why “pay back” should be on a three-to-one ratio (I have my own opinion on this, but this is not the place to go into that).

Chapters 11 and 12 (“Whither Wicca?” and “The Teen Interest Plus Feminist Wicca”) are welcome additions to the work, especially since neither area had any public existence at the time of the original publication of this work. These two chapters were not written by Dr. Buckland, but were produced by other authors and teachers.

Chapter 11 contains input from three prominent members of the Pagan community (one of whom is a personal acquaintance of this reviewer). It is interesting to see the perspective of other Pagans as regards the development and growth of Wicca.

Ed Fitch has been a mainstay of the Pagan movement for longer than many of today’s practitioners have been alive. I have always looked forward to hearing what he has to share.

While I don’t know Michael Ragan personally, or by his writings, he offers a view of Wicca which has its own value.

Selena Fox I have known, casually, since the mid-‘70s, when Circle was just getting started, and the first “Midwest Pan-Pagan Gathering” was an overnight camp-out in Indiana. She has been involved in the fight for the legal recognition of Paganism for as long as I have known her. She speaks from long years of experience. In all the years I have known Selena, she was worked tirelessly to bring about tolerance ” not just of the “Establishment” for Paganism, but of Paganism for the “Establishment.” She is a living example of what sincere belief can accomplish. “Circle Network News” (the publication she helped establish) has evolved from a few pages of newsprint, dealing mostly with Midwestern groups, to become one of the best, most widely available, longest-lasting publications devoted to Paganism in the world today. She has seen, and been involved with, the evolution of Paganism throughout its public existence in the U.S.

I was pleased to see that rather than giving his interpretation of Feminist Wicca in Chapter 12, Dr. Buckland gave Zsuzsanna Budapest (a well-known, prominent writer and teacher of the Feminist Wiccan movement) an opportunity to explain it from the inside. This is another welcome addition to the current edition.

This is another one of the books which should be in every teacher’s library. You may not agree with everything Buckland says, but you should be aware of how others perceive the movement known as Wicca.